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Long-Term Evolution

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COVID-19 is here to stay, indefinitely. Even if effective vaccines are made commercially available by late next year, it will take years before this virus can be effectively mitigated. The first smallpox immunization was in 1796, and the disease was eradicated only after almost 200 years. The first polio vaccine came out in 1955. And despite global vaccination efforts, to date, polio is still a recurring problem.

I recall, as a child in 1979, having visited the Bureau of Quarantine at the Port Area in Manila before going on a trip abroad. My siblings and I had to be vaccinated for smallpox. We were then issued “yellow” cards by the Ministry of Health that were attached to our passports, as proof of immunization. Without that card, not one of us could have left the country.

Forty years later, we may have to expect such interventions yet again. I am almost certain that by late 2021 or early 2022, all travelers abroad will be required to take a swab test as well as get vaccination prior to departure, whether for business or for pleasure. And, maybe, COVID-19 immunization will become part of the series of “shots” given to babies and young children.

In the case of COVID-19, being a very “new” virus, it still has plenty of opportunity to mutate — to undergo “Long-Term Evolution” or “LTE” and further increase its capacity and speed to infect people. We can only hope that researchers can effectively catch up to it in terms of developing more effective and more affordable medicine for treatment, and vaccines for immunization.

As for us, with COVID-19’s impact on our lives, we, too, should expect “LTE.” A number of changes we made in our daily living may have to stay with us for a while, some maybe indefinitely. And, as the virus mutates and evolves, so must we, for the long term. It is never easy to adapt to change. But we should start learning to live with disruptions like COVID-19.

Our character is influenced by genetics and our living environment. We are who we are because of what we have gone through. We are the sum of our experiences. Attitudes and values are shaped by these influences, including our ability and capacity to deal with stress, changes, and seemingly insurmountable odds. In this regard, admittedly, some are better than others.

My father was five when war came to our shores. My mother was born a little over a year after the start of the Japanese invasion. Only two of my four grandparents were still around after the war. I have lost uncles to the fighting, and so did my wife. Many families — and fortunes — were forever changed by the dramatic events and consequences of World War 2.

I have been fortunate to encounter enough people from my parents’ generation, to have been regaled by their stories and recollections of living through war, surviving it, and moving on from there. And how the country started to rebuild after war, and how fame and fortune were made by people who adapted to the changes and took advantage of emerging opportunities. Back then, it seemed to me that opportunities were aplenty. But people needed skills and knowledge to make something of those opportunities. So, education became a crucial element to success. Education or skills, plus hard work, gave people access to lives far better than what they had before or during the war.

School was suspended during the early part of the war, and children had to learn to fend for themselves. Many were actually forced to help sustain households through odd jobs. And when schools reopened, many had to study and work at the same time since they could ill-afford to give up on either. While the government offered assistance, most relied on their own abilities to survive.

But more than education and skills, a far more important element to me is grit. What saw my parents’ generation through was the determination to overcome the ravages of war and to improve their lot. By grit, I refer to their ability to persist in their pursuit of better lives, and their capacity to persevere despite downturns and obstacles. They could not be easily put down.

I believe them to be stronger and healthier than succeeding generations. They were also practical and relied more on common sense. They used ingenuity to overcome obstacles, and what we consider specialized skills now were common to many of them. Work such as carpentry and masonry, gardening, sewing, cooking, knitting, and embroidery were commonplace. Their generation was more than willing to face challenges, and still to be made “soft” by modern-day conveniences.

I recall my father once reminding us, his children, that our children — his grandchildren — would probably be facing problems in the future that would be far more difficult than what he had experienced in his lifetime. And his concern was that we are not preparing our children enough for hard times ahead. And then COVID hit, and hard times are indeed upon us, with no end to it in sight.

Pre-COVID days are done. There will be no going back to them. As I have written previously, I believe that the work and home environments are evolving and will continue to evolve just as technology and tools also evolve. And changes will continue to affect how we do business and how we live our lives. Not all disruption will be welcome, or easily surmountable. But we have to adapt. Life will have to go on.

Pandemic “pains” will be with us for a long time. People and the economy will continue to hurt in the years to come. But we need to accept the fact that we have to co-exist with COVID-19 — or any other virus, for that matter. We need to adapt to change, accept it, and anticipate that any change may be permanent. In doing so, we also increase our capacity for change, and the speed by which we can adapt to it. To persist and to persevere, that is grit. That is “LTE.”


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council

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